Takács & Friends Recital @ Hanna Perkins Center

CoolCleveland.com, October 2007

At least once each year, there is a concert or recital that features music by the brilliant American composer George Gershwin which completely confirms his standing as a composer of music entirely suitable for the concert stage. Such an event took place Friday evening, when two of his songs–the Second Prelude and I Got Rhythm transcended their popular reputation at the hands of three versatile classical musicians, two of whom are also noted for jazz performances. Oberlin pianist Peter Takács, who is exceedingly fluent in either classical or jazz repertoire, brought along some young musical friends Friday evening for a stunning recital in Shaker Heights. Dimitri Askhenazy, clarinet; Virgil Hartinger, tenor and Scott Woolweaver, violist added immeasurably to the musical content of the evening, which ranged from Mozart to Gershwin.

The auditorium at Hanna Perkins Center is an acoustic marvel; sound remains clear and concise throughout, regardless of where one sits. The instruments never sound muddy, although when the lid is up full, it is easy for the piano to overpower them, as it did on occasion here. The piano, which also came from Oberlin had a gorgeous, bright sound, and would have been beyond stunning in solo piano works. Maybe that joyous experience will be in store for us the next time around.

Mozart’s Kegelstatt Trio, K. 498 opened the recital in a spirited and warm rendition featuring Mssrs. Ashkenazy and Woolweaver along with Prof. Takács. Four German Songs by Louis Spohr featured the young Austrian tenor, Mr. Hartinger, again with Mr. Ashkenazy and Prof. Takács. It’s amazing how well the clarinet blends with voice and piano. At times it sounded like two singers rather than just one. Mr. Hartinger has a warm quality to his voice, which made the love songs of Spohr (set to the words of four different poets) all the more poignant.

Alfred Uhl’s Kleines Konzert was perhaps unfamiliar to most of the audience, but I’d be willing to bet that most of us would like to hear much more of him, and this work, in particular. It was again, for piano, viola and clarinet. In brief spoken program notes, Mr. Ashkenazy said that ‘in spite of when this was written (late 1930s) the composer wrote real music, not like some of his contemporaries.’ How true! It was very tuneful, with brief bits of dissonance here and there. It as also very rhythmically inventive. In the first movement Allegro con brio (an apt designation – especially the con brio part!) the viola and clarinet took turns tossing the melody back and forth. It was a bit jazzy-bluesy and piquant, all at the same time.

The middle movement was titled Grave – most appropriate for so close to Halloween, with it’s eerie ambiance. A highlight was the long unison notes in the lower registers of the clarinet and viola. The final movement Vivo featured syncopation and lots of notes from all three performers, prompting cheers along with vigorous applause from the near-capacity audience.

After intermission, Mr. Hartinger presented two pieces by Ravel, both set to poems by Clement Marot. The first (To Anne who threw snow at me) was contemplative in nature, while the second (To Anne as she plays the spinet) was sweet. Three more French songs –all illustrative of stringed instruments) followed: Fauré’s Mandoline; Poulenc’s À sa guitare and Debussy’s ‘Mandoline” were all tenderly and very evocatively sung.

Mr. Woolweaver then replaced Mr. Hartinger for the final works. Two Pieces Op. 83 by Max Bruch allowed the viola to showcase tricky double stops while the clarinet displayed beautiful legato playing in the first one, while the only suitable word to describe the second was ‘jaunty’. It was very happy music.

Prof. Takács arranged the Gershwin pieces that closed the program. “Hot off the press,” he commented, while sorting out the pages from which he would play. In the Second Prelude Mr. Ashkenazy switched to the super mellow-sounding bass clarinet in the middle, while Mr. Woolweaver accompanied him with plucked strings. Smoothly, they segued into I Got Rhythm which totally lived up to its name, being a really jazzy version.

For information about upcoming programs at the Hanna Perkins Center, call 991-4472.

From Cool Cleveland contributor Kelly Ferjutz artswriter@adelphia.net